Remembering Whitney Houston (1963-2012)
There was a time in my life when I knew exactly three songs and would sing them over and over again. They were “Achy Breaky Heart” by Billy Ray Cyrus, “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” by Bryan Adams, and Whitney Houston’s version of the old Dolly Parton song “I Will Always Love You” from ‘The Bodyguard’ soundtrack. It was 1992 and I was 5 years old.
I’m nearly 25 now. I was born three weeks after “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” was released in May 1987. It was the first single from her second album, and despite the fact that Whitney’s highest point of popularity came either before I was born or in the years when I still thought “Achy Breaky Heart” was a good song, I’ll never forget her talent.
Whitney was a legend, an icon. And she was born to be in the spotlight. The daughter of gospel singer Cissy Houston, Whitney was also the cousin of singer Dionne Warwick and the goddaughter of the Queen of Soul herself, Aretha Franklin. In the current world of Auto-Tune and music that’s born from a studio and not just raw talent, to lose a voice like Whitney Houston’s is a tragedy. It’s true, over the last decade her voice had become raspy and her name was more associated with drug use, a failed marriage to Bobby Brown, and erratic behavior than for her music or her voice, but I can still remember her from the early 90s when she was the pop world’s darling and its most talented performer.
She took her voice and her musical successes and parlayed them into starring roles in films like 1992’s ‘The Bodyguard’ with Kevin Costner, the film for which she recorded ‘I Will Always Love You’, 1995’s ‘Waiting to Exhale’ and 1996’s ‘The Preacher’s Wife’ with Denzel Washington.
Losing Whitney stunned the world last night. I was on Twitter when the news broke, and I can truthfully say that nearly every single tweet was about her, about what she meant to people, about some high school memory that was somehow linked to her or her music. Some were tweets crying for someone to tell them it wasn’t true, that it was another internet hoax, some were about how her story was a cautionary tale of drug use and addiction, but most of the time the tweets were about how sad and how shocked people were at losing her seemingly out of nowhere. Even people who are too young there’s no possible way they could remember a time when she wasn’t the Whitney ruined by cocaine or pills, were lamenting her passing.
Even as I write this I keep calling her Whitney. Just Whitney. Even though she never went by just a single name in the likes of other musical icons Madonna and Cher, you can say only her first name, Whitney, and people know exactly who you’re talking about. She was the voice of a generation, her talent unsurpassed by those who came after her and desperately tried to mimic her sound. She never had to try too hard; people were just drawn to her voice. And for some of us, that’s all we need to remember – how talented she was.
It’s going to be a long time before the musical world finds another powerful voice like hers and it’s going to be a long time before the world gets over this loss. Rest in peace, Whitney. May all your demons have died with you.
I leave you with this video of Whitney singing the national anthem in the early 90s. I dare you not to cry.